Galatians Chapter 2:6-10

Updated   11.23.12

Galatians 2:6-10

6ἀπὸ δὲ τῶν δοκούντων εἶναί τι ὁποῖοί ποτε ἦσαν οὐδέν μοι διαφέρει: πρόσωπον [ὁ] θεὸς ἀνθρώπου οὐ λαμβάνει ἐμοὶ γὰρ οἱ δοκοῦντες οὐδὲν προσανέθεντο,

From the ones seeiming to be something—of what sort they were then, it didn’t matter to me: God does not take the face of a man—for those appearing added nothing to me.

 Idiomatic:  From the ones appearing to be something special—what they actually were didn’t matter, because God doesn’t choose people based on a pleasing face (good looks; pleasing exterior)—these ones appearing to be something added nothing to my message.  (they had no influence on me, even though they seemed to be so important).

 IOW, Paul stood firm against being influenced, or cowed, by these guys who thought they were big shots in the Jesus community.  And remember: some of them had probably known Jesus, whereas Paul had not.  Takes a certain type of fortitude.  Or pigheadedness.  And the term one chooses pretty much depends on whether one agrees with the position or not.  Think of Martin Luther’s words before the Council of Worms: “Hier stehe ich.  Ich kann nicht anders.  Gott helfe mir.”      

The Greek in this sentence is pretty tough; given the lack of punctuation, it’s often hard to pick up when something has been inserted parenthetically, as it has been here.

6 Ab his autem, qui videbantur esse aliquid — quales aliquando fuerint, nihil mea interest; Deus personam hominis non accipit — mihi enim, qui observabantur, nihil contulerunt,

7ἀλλὰ τοὐναντίον ἰδόντες ὅτι πεπίστευμαι τὸ εὐαγγέλιον τῆς ἀκροβυστίας καθὼς Πέτρος τῆς περιτομῆς,

On the contrary, seeing that we have been entrusted with the gospel to the uncircumcised, accordingly as Peter (has been entrusted with the gospel) to the circumcised.

But entrusted by whom?  God, presumably.

7 sed e contra, cum vidissent quod creditum est mihi evangelium praeputii, sicut Petro circumcisionis

8ὁ γὰρ ἐνεργήσας Πέτρῳ εἰς ἀποστολὴν τῆς περιτομῆς ἐνήργησεν καὶ ἐμοὶ εἰς τὰ ἔθνη,

For the task to Peter (was) towards (to be) the apostle to the circumcised, and (so) to me the task (to be the apostle to) the peoples/gentiles.

Sort of a division of labor. On the one hand, it seems that Paul is making it sound as if some sort of formal decision was made; OTOH, one senses that the reality is that the James Gang simply bowed to and accepted what was, in fact, something of a fait accompli carried out by Paul.

Now, this is significant.  It demonstrates pretty effectively, and—IMO—conclusively that Paul was a bit of a loose canon.  He got his own commission—his own mission—from God, and struck out on his own, pretty much disregarding what the James Gang in Jerusalem thought about the matter.  This is huge, because, by any stretch, Peter and James were the ‘rightful’ heirs of Jesus message.  Paul here is pretty much corroborating the gospel accounts that Peter was part of Jesus’ innermost circle.  And, certainly, James, as the brother of Jesus, could, by any reasonable standard, claim to have some sort of authority to represent Jesus once the latter was dead.  James has been called the caliph by some modern authors, the relative who had the divine designation to perpetuate the message of the Master.

That Paul, more or less, circumvented—at the least—or usurped—at the most—the authority that should have belonged to Peter or James is a huge development.  Why did they, however grudgingly as it might have been, accept this usurpation?

One answer is that, a generation out Paul had been very successful in creating lots of followers of Jesus in lots of Gentile communities.  That is, the weight of numbers was on Paul’s side.  The Jews resisted Jesus; the Gentiles were more open to the idea of a new prophet coming at the end of a very long tradition.  RL Fox, in Pagans and Christians, describes other such pagan prophets, wise men, sages, who were active in the first 1-2 centuries CE.  That is, they were pagan versions of Jesus, who stood at the end of a very old pagan tradition, just as Jesus stood at the end of a very old Jewish tradition.  The Jews, perhaps, seemed not so willing to accept this change of course; the pagans didn’t particularly mind.

8 — qui enim operatus est Petro in apostolatum circumcisionis, operatus est et mihi inter gentes —

9καὶ γνόντες τὴν χάριν τὴν δοθεῖσάν μοι, Ἰάκωβος καὶ Κηφᾶς καὶ Ἰωάννης, οἱ δοκοῦντες στῦλοι εἶναι, δεξιὰς ἔδωκαν ἐμοὶ καὶ Βαρναβᾷ κοινωνίας, ἵνα ἡμεῖς εἰς τὰ ἔθνη, αὐτοὶ δὲ εἰς τὴν περιτομήν:

And knowing the grace given to me, James and Cephas and John, those seeming to be the pillars, they gave to me their right hand and Barnabas in common ( = together with Barnabas), so that we (should/could go) to the peoples, while (= δὲ)  they themselves (went) to the circumcised.

James, Peter, and John, appeared  to be the pillars.  Interesting for several reasons: first, the names.  Given the reference in 1:19, the logical inference is that this is James, the brother of Jesus.  Which leads to the second point: the order in which the names are given.  James is given precedence, and this will matter below, in 2:12.  Again, as the gospels don’t even specifically state that James the Lesser is the brother of Jesus, it’s a bit surprising to see him as the leading figure.

Cephas and John, OTOH, are perfectly non-surprising.  We are used to thinking of them as leaders among the apostles.  Perhaps not so much John during Jesus’ lifetime, but certainly as the author of the fourth gospel, and the attributed author of Apocalypse.

Finally, note that Paul states that they appeared to be the Pillars—of the community more or less understood.  Why did they only seem to be?  Why doesn’t he state definitively that they were the pillars?  Simple jealousy?  These men had known Jesus, and Paul hadn’t?  Or perhaps ignorance?  Perhaps he simply was not really knowledgeable about the workings of the Jerusalem assembly.  He hadn’t spent much time there; he hadn’t been there in 14 years.

Note: The NIV renders this as “those esteemed pillars.”  That really changes the meaning.  The Revised English Bible gives this as “those recognized as pillars,” which is also an entirely different sense from ‘seemed to be.’

Finally, they gave Paul their right hands, in friendship, in blessing.  They shook hands on the deal.  They understood that Paul was divinely appointed (the grace given him, as Paul put it) to be the apostle to the Gentiles.

A word about the Greek.  As is so often the case, the Greek omits the verb for “to go” in both of the last two clauses.  In the second clause, it doesn’t make a lot of difference.  In the first: “that we (go) to the peoples,” it matters in the sense that we are expecting something like the subjunctive rather than the Present Indicative Active.  Perhaps a minor point, but it may indicate he felt confident that he could get away with it, or didn’t quite know what he was doing.

9 et cum cognovissent gratiam, quae data est mihi, Iacobus et Cephas et Ioannes, qui videbantur columnae esse, dexteras dederunt mihi et Barnabae communionis, ut nos in gentes, ipsi autem in circumcisionem;

10μόνον τῶν πτωχῶν ἵνα μνημονεύωμεν, ὃ καὶ ἐσπούδασα αὐτὸ τοῦτο ποιῆσαι.

Alone of the poor in order that we remember, which also I was diligent/eager to do the very thing.

Updated: (We were enjoined) only/solely to remember the poor, of which thing I was diligent/eager to do.

Per the comments, I’ve revised the translation for the sake of clarity.

 

Some have taken ‘the poor’ here to refer to the Ebionites.  This was yet another sect of Jesus followers, who held some kind of vow of poverty.  Some have gone so far as to posit that James, brother of Jesus, was the leader of the group.  Given that James was a pillar of the Jerusalem assembly, this seems a bit odd.

Rather, this more likely refers to the Temple Tax that all Jews were required to pay to the temple.   

10 tantum ut pauperum memores essemus, quod etiam sollicitus fui hoc ipsum facere.

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About James, brother of Jesus

I have a BA from the University of Toronto in Greek and Roman History. For this, I had to learn classical Greek and Latin. In seminar-style classes, we discussed both the meaning of the text and the language. U of T has a great Classics Dept. One of the professors I took a Senior Seminar with is now at Harvard. I started reading the New Testament as a way to brush up on my Greek, and the process grew into this. I plan to comment on as much of the NT as possible, starting with some of Paul's letters. After that, I'll start in on the Gospels, starting with Mark.

Posted on September 16, 2012, in epistles, Galatians, Paul's Letters and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

  1. Re: “Alone of the poor…” The text seems confusing when trying to understand whether Paul was of the poor, or that he was ministering to the poor. Previously, he had classified who he ministered to (gentiles), as well as who he was getting support from (James, Cephas, etc). It may be clearer in the Greek but the English is ambiguous when trying to understand this last statement.

    Regarding the Ebionites, I have not seen this discussed very satisfyingly. Since much of Jesus’ quoted message throughout the NT concerns the relationship of the rich and poor and its use as a measuring standard. Members of the community were asked to purge themselves of worldly goods and emulate the poor. Since the poor will be rich and the rich will be poor, you would have to position yourself as poor to be ready for the coming age of God. The apostles were encouraged to live off of charity provided by the communities they were proselytizing to. Paul tries to distinguish himself by noting how he supports himself in the community, unlike the others he is competing with. This may have given him better respect amongst the Gentiles and the Jewish Diaspora communities. Given this possible context, the James-Cephas group in Jerusalem may have called themselves “poor followers of the Way”. Over time, the Jerusalem group may have stayed closer to a Book-of-Daniel, Conquering-Sin Jesus, whereas Paul seemed to be pushing a Conquering-Death Jesus. Over time, they would see each other as heretics and previously-neutral names that defined distinguishing features will later become perjorative terms.

  2. Dean, thank you for drawing my attention to the translation of the first clause of verse 10. The Greek is not terribly ambiguous; my translation was needlessly so. “Monon” (the root of, e.g., “mono”-rail and “monk”) can be taken as a noun, an adjective, or an adverb. Here, it should be an adverb, and this did not come across clearly in my initial translation. We would say something like, “…They just (=monon) added the condition that I remember the poor…”

    As for the Ebionites, you have not seen a satisfactory discussion because the evidence mainly consists of oblique references in other writers. We have not found any “Ebionite” texts; and, unless and until we do so, unfortunately, we’re not apt to learn much more in the future. In this case, though, the argument from silence probably has some merit: we are not told much about them because, in all likelihood, they were a splinter group that proved to be ephemeral.

    As for James, brother of Jesus, and his relation to the Ebionites, I have seen this suggestion, which is why I mentioned it. However, stuff I read later seems to make me lean more to the Temple-tax idea. This was used to support the poor, which has very deep roots in Jewish tradition (see Book of Ezra, e.g.). But, let’s be honest: some of it no doubt stuck to the hands of those administering the fund.

    As for James and the community of Jerusalem living the life of asceticism, Paul tells us elsewhere that this may not have been true. What shows up in 1 Thessalonians as his claim that he worked (making tents?) to support himself, elsewhere (cite to follow) becomes a complaint that other apostles traveled in a retinue that included their wives. Such a group could, without doubt, strain the resources of the community that was required to support them. And again, cite to follow, IIRC, some of those traveling with these retinues were brothers of Jesus; James, brother of Jesus, was not implicated personally. This may be why he was given the surname of “The Just”.

    Given this, I’m a bit suspicious of the idea of a Jerusalem community remaining as poor Followers of the Way. There is too much of a parallel with what happened both to the high priests, and what happened subsequently in Rome among those-who-became-Christians. Even in the lifetime of St Francis, the order he founded ended up extremely wealthy, and very far from the practices of the founder. Cynical? Yes. But it’s the conclusion to be drawn from too many such movements throughout western (at least) history.

    As for the Gentiles, aside from crackpots like Diogenes, the religious ideal of poverty did not have deep or strong roots in Graeco-Roman thought. In fact, Diogenes is the only example I can think of. People like Marcus Aurelius and the Stoics were not necessarily impressed by wealth, and he personally lived a non-lavish life, but this had as much to do with him being a soldier who spent a lot of time on campaign as it did with his beliefs.

    In short, the self-supporting man had a following among among the Puritans who greatly influenced American ideas of capitalism (wealth is a mark of the favour of God), and so we see this as a virtue in Paul. And so must some of his audience. However, the Graeco-Roman ideal of the Gentleman was that he superior (aristos) man should be above work. Suetonius, in his “Life Of Julius Caesar”, relates an anecdote about Caesar testing the weight of a pearl in his own hand. Thiis was meant to be a disparagement of Caesar, showing him as money-grubbing and crass.

    So Paul’s boast could cut both ways, depending on his audience.

    At this point, refer ahead to the post on Mark 7, which deals with John the Baptist and the idea of poverty as a virtue. As of this writing (11.23.12, @ 10;10 AM), the post is not up. However, it should be by the end of the weekend. There will be a longer discussion on the religious ideal of poverty.

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